She was born Charlyn Marie Marshall in Atlanta, Georgia. Charlyn adopted the nickname Chan in sixth grade.
Charlyn was the second child of Charlie Marshall, a blues musician and pianist, and Myra Lee Marshall (née Russell). She grew up in a chaotic, poor household with her father largely absent. Her parents divorced in 1979 after which Marshall's mom spent a lot of time in bars, dragging her two children along.
At the age of 20, Marshall moved to New York City and found a small basement studio where she could lay down music. Her first two albums, Dear Sir and Myra Lee Marshall, were recorded simultaneously there in December 1994.
In 2003, Marshall released You Are Free, which became the first charting Cat Power album, reaching #105 on the Billboard 200. However, she was going through a bad time, having just broken up with her first long-term boyfriend, runway model Daniel Currie, and was indulging in Jack Daniel's and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax from the moment she woke up.
"I was suffering from deep depression due to the loss of the love of my life," she recalled to The Independent. "It was an agonizing pain, so I chose to induce myself in as much alcohol as I could instead of choosing suicide. Yeah, I made a choice to live in a bottle."
Around the release of her seventh album, 2006's The Greatest, Marshall suffered a psychotic breakdown brought on by mental exhaustion and alcohol abuse which had left her feeling suicidal. She was briefly admitted to the psychiatric ward at Mount Sinai Medical Center & Miami Heart Institute and put on medication for bipolar disorder.
Marshall had a period of stability for several years after settling down with the actor Giovanni Ribisi. However in 2012 he left her for British model Agyness Deyn, and the devastated Marshall decamped to Malibu and started recording Sun
. The music video for the track "Ruin
" finds Marshall sporting a shorter haircut than before, having cut her locks following their split.
In 2014 Marshall found she was pregnant. She gave birth the following year to a son, Boaz, who appears on the cover of her Wanderer album.